10 Amazing Facts About Purgatory That You Never Knew

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  1. United with Christ. Again, purgatory is not some kind of spiritual time-out or bypass from our lives of faith on earth and the beatific vision we yearn for in heaven. If the souls in purgatory are indeed truly part of the Church Suffering, then it follows they remain a part of the mystical body of Christ and therefore remain united to Him. How much closer will they become to the Crucified Christ in the suffering of purgatory! We tend to hear a lot about union with Christ among the most saintly in this life, but the obvious potential for a profound union in purgatory seems to be largely overlooked.
  1. The suffering is voluntary. St. Catherine of Genoa, author of a treatise on purgatory, says that once the soul sees what is in store in heaven, immediately casts itself into purgatory. Of course, purgatory is not voluntary in the sense that someone could choose not to go there. But it is voluntary in the sense that souls submit willingly to it, which is what Aquinas also says.
  1. Christ consoles those in purgatory. Remember the part in the creed about the descent into hell? Traditionally theologians considered purgatory as part of hell, understanding hell as simply everywhere that is not heaven. In the descent, all who were “in any part of hell” were “visited in some respect” by Christ, Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologica. The holy fathers in limbo were delivered, while the souls in purgatory were consoled, so he suggests.
  1. There will be joys as well as suffering. Traditional accounts of purgatory seem to focus on the pain and punishment. There’s more to purgatory than that though. St. Catherine of Genoa describes it as a state of great happiness: “I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the  hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin’s rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing.”
  1. Purgatory makes saints. This conclusion, as radical as it may sound, is inevitable. Here’s why—the basic Catholic doctrine on who ends up in heaven and who goes to purgatory can be simply stated this way: those who have reached such a state of sanctity that they do not need the purifying fires of purgatory go straight to heaven. We call them, fittingly, saints. Put another way: only saints get into heaven. That’s what purgatory does: it makes all of us who will end up there into saints. That’s the beauty of the Church’s teaching on purgatory.
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